Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A 'jumping gene's' preferred targets may influence genome evolution

The human genome shares several peculiarities with the DNA of just about every other plant and animal. Our genetic blueprint contains numerous entities known as transposons, or "jumping genes," which have the ability to move from place to place on the chromosomes within a cell.

An astounding 50% of human DNA comprises both active transposon elements and the decaying remains of former transposons that were active thousands to millions of years ago before becoming damaged and immobile.

If all of this mobile and formerly mobile DNA were not mysterious enough, every time a plant, animal or human cell prepares to divide, the chromosome regions richest in transposon-derived sequences, even elements long deceased, are among the last to duplicate. The reason for their delayed duplication, if there is one, has eluded biologists for more than 50 years.

New research led by Carnegie's Allan Spradling and published online this week by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides potential insight into both these enigmas.

The scientists used the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, one of the premier "model" organisms for studying genome structure and gene function. They focused on one particular transposon, called the P element, which has an unsurpassed ability to move that has stimulated its widespread use by Drosophila researchers.

Remarkably, P elements have only been present in Drosophila melanogaster for about 80 years, at which time they were acquired from the genome of a distantly related fruit fly species by an unknown process. P elements remain highly "infective" today. Adding just one copy to the genome of one fly causes all the flies in a laboratory population with which it breeds to acquire 30 to 50 P elements within a few generations. The original goal of the Spradling team's research was not to understand how transposons spread or genomes evolve, but something much simpler: To learn why P elements insert at some locations in the genome but not in others.

Spradling and his colleagues, who oversee the NIH-funded Drosophila "Gene Disruption Project" used a database containing more than 50,000 genomic sites where P elements have inserted. They built this exceptional database over the last 20 years.

P elements insert into DNA very selectively. Nearly 40% of new jumps occur within just 300 genes and always near the beginning of the gene. But the genes seemed to have nothing in common. When these sites were compared to data about the Drosophila genome, particularly recent studies of Drosophila genome duplication, the answer became clear. What many P insertion sites share in common is an ability to function as starting sites or "origins" for DNA duplication. This association between P elements and the machinery of genome duplication suggested that they can coordinate their movement with DNA replication.

Spradling and his team propose that P elements—and likely other transposons as well—use a replication connection to spread more rapidly through genomes. These elements would only transpose after replicating, and then preferentially insert themselves into portions of DNA that have not yet become activated. This would allow them to duplicate twice rather than just once during the genome duplication cycle.

If the elements get a late start, however, only the last segments of the chromosome to duplicate will be left for their second duplication. This explains tendency of such regions to be transposon-rich. However, the researchers found that two other Drosophila transposons, known as piggyBac and Minos, do not insert at replication origins, so this mechanism is far from universal. Furthermore, Spradling cautioned that it is particularly difficult to experimentally test hypotheses about evolution.

"By gaining insight into one specific transposon's movements, we may have begun to glimpse mechanisms that have profoundly influenced genome evolution for nearly all animals" Spradling commented.

Spradling's co-authors on the paper are Hugo Bellen of Baylor College of Medicine and Roger Hoskins of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Funding for this research was provided in part by the National Institutes of Health.

The Carnegie Institution for Science ( is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Allan Spradling | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene therapy shows promise for treating Niemann-Pick disease type C1
27.10.2016 | NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

nachricht 'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape
27.10.2016 | International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

How nanoscience will improve our health and lives in the coming years

27.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

OU-led team discovers rare, newborn tri-star system using ALMA

27.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

'Neighbor maps' reveal the genome's 3-D shape

27.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>